Americans prove apathetic towards foreign struggles

Jessi Schlewitt

Refugee torture in Libya. The Rohingya genocide. Cambodian child sex trade.

For many of us, these issues are literally and figuratively foreign. Although the problems pose a considerable threat abroad, most Americans are not only unknowledgeable about, but indifferent to, the myriad of issues unrelated to the U.S.

The inhumane treatment of refugees in Libya is one such issue. As inhabitants of African nations flee to Europe, they must first pass through Libya. Thousands of migrants are stopped there, held and tortured in unsanitary detention centers, according to The Guardian.

On the other side of the Eastern world lies Myanmar, riddled with civil rights disputes. Ethnic cleansing continues to kill the Muslim Rohingya people, a genocide mandated against the minority group by the government. As a primarily Buddhist nation, Myanmar rejected citizenship to the Rohingya and left the group stateless. Those who escape murder are raped, tortured or left homeless after their villages are burned.

Human rights issues likewise strike Cambodia, as children are unwillingly and unknowingly submitted to sex trafficking. Pedophile tourists travel to the nation and purchase the virginity of minors from financially insecure parents. The deal can earn families upwards of 20 times an average weekly wage, according to agapewebsite.org.

These issues are unrelatable for largely white and self-absorbed America, making the issues too unfamiliar to deeply care about and advocate for. Instead, indifference deters us from educating ourselves on these issues, and we turn towards more relatable problems affecting groups ethnically similar to ourselves.

When our Australian neighbors, who are culturally akin to white America, needed foreign aid during the bushfires, the American government, media outlets and citizens paid attention to and raised copious funds to help.

Similarly, when the Notre Dame Cathedral caught flame in April 2019, no news source was short of a story. A monument capturing white-European culture crumbles, and suddenly our televisions, newspapers and social media feeds are coated with the flames.

But when a refugee in Libya shrieks for help, who hears?

When stained glass is mourned more than the human lives of our global neighbors, American indifference becomes dangerous.

American exceptionalism—the belief that the U.S. is inherently better than other nations—is at the forefront of our apathy. Many Americans subscribe to the idea that the problems of the U.S. or culturally similar nations are the only ones worth considering. This ideology drives our predominantly white country to give more attention to problems in other mostly white countries.

Our lack of worldliness in the U.S. can also be attributed to our education system. According to U.S. News, only about one-third of American middle schools and one-tenth of high schools require geography courses. In fact, when asked to locate Iran, only 23 percent of  American participants in a Morning Consult survey were able to do so.

The problem of American global apathy is rooted both in mainstream media and our education system. If we cannot even locate at-risk countries on a map, how are we to care for their issues, and to truly grasp that they, too, are human?